Perhaps Ralph Waldo Emerson was right and may as well have referred to Janis Joplin as he was saying this quotation had he lived during Joplin’s time. With her death at a young age of 27, it had been a short-lived life the musical genius Janis Joplin had. We may not know whether or not her cousins can tell nothing about her but her life deserves to be relived and I am here to write about it.
A look into the context in which she lived will help give a better understanding of how the course of her life was influenced and came to be the way it was. Janis Joplin is one of the most prominent individuals in the 1960s, an era considered to be a revolution of sorts. Beginnings On the morning of January 19, 1943, Janis Lyn was born to be the eldest child of Seth and Dorothy Joplin. It was years later that she would have younger siblings Michael and Laura making them a middle-class family composing of five members.
Growing up in an industrial town called Port Arthur in Texas crowded with oil refineries, chemical plants, factories, and rows of oil-storage tanks with fumes hanging in the air, it wasn’t the best place to satisfy the brilliant and inquisitive little Janis as there wasn’t much room for activities and recreations. Although that was the case, she did well in school, having a great interest and aptitude for reading and painting. As a child, she already had a reputation for singing as one of the soloists in their church choir.
According to one of her friends, she had been popular in Port Arthur as a talented and cute little girl. Janis considered her childhood as relatively pleasant. It was only at the age of fourteen, as confessed in many of her various interviews, that she felt like the world turned on her. That was the time she gained weight and had acne problems, problems which meant most than anything for teenagers. The eventual lost of her looks coincided badly with her entry to the highschool world where the popular girls were the ones with good looks and Janis just fell behind (Echols, 2000).
While at the Thomas Jefferson highschool, Janis took rejection by heart (Amburn, 1993). Used to having attention on her, she started acting out and whilst she began to receive attention, she even emphasized her being different. She was determined to keep the attention on her even if it was a negative one. She became a beatnik girl who would flaunt her eccentric clothes ranging from above-the-knee skirts, black or purple tights coupled with liking unconventional and ‘different’ liberal arts and music. As Echols put it, “she was bent on becoming an eyesore, an affront to everything the townspeople believed in.
Indeed, Janis was eager to defy as many social conventions as she could. This made her parents unhappy- “she just changed totally, overnight” quoting her mother Dorothy. As an underage girl, her defiant attitude was too much that one incident happened involving the police after she took a ride with her male friends who were overage. This made her even more the topic of talks and gossips around their Pleasantville of a town. She was much into music and drinking, acting as if these two things are wedded. And this always gets her into trouble.
She was often sent to the counselor’s office for misbehavior and drinking (Echols, 2000). Her parents were baffled and felt helpless. Joplin’s rebellious proclivity was unwavering, she just wanted to be different and be free to express herself. Little did they know that Janis’ rebellious actions symbolize the beginning of an inevitable social revolution and an “emerging generation gap” that was about to come(Echols, 2000). The fact was: it wasn’t just Joplin; it was going to be a collective movement.
The Sixties was well on its way. The Sixties”, as it is often used in popular culture by some journalists, historians and other academes, has seen many varied influential and transforming trends in culture and ideologies which can be described as nothing less than exciting, powerful, radical and even rebellious. It was a time when people are trying to break free from the rigid and conformist social norms and social constraints in search for individual freedom (Booker, 1970). It could be said that this period of history has a great impact on Janis Joplin and further influenced not only her genius but how her entire life turned out. Musical Inclination
Music would eventually become a passion for Joplin. Aside from singing in their local church choir, Janis developed her musical interest further after befriending a group of outsiders as a teenager. She and this gang would listen and idolize African-American Blues artists such as Leadbelly whose album was the first she claimed she ever purchased (Echols, 2000). During highschool she continued listening to blues music and listened to other blues artists like Bessie Smith, Big Mama Thornton and Odetta. And even later on, she will begin singing blues and folks songs together with some friends, imitating the artists’ husky yet soulful voices. Amburn, 1993).
She always had a gut feel about her singing ability but it wasn’t until she imitated Odetta and performed one of her songs which stunned her friends that she she confirmed, she indeed “has a voice. ” Her early efforts included playing in coffee houses in their small town. Talent, Notoriety and Fame In 1963, she left for San Francisco and found herself residing in North Beach. She also ventured to other places like Venice, the Village, New York and Haight-Ashbury acquiring further experiences and experimenting on her music and creativity.
It wasn’t just a year ago that she started taping her first song at a friend’s house and a year after she would record more songs with her friends Jorma Kaukonen and Martha Kaukonen providing her accompaniments. An album called Typewriter tape will be released containing seven tracks including “Long Black Train Blues,” “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,” “Typewriter Talk,” Kansas City Blues,” “Trouble In Mind,” “ Hesitation Blues,” and “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy” . As the Sixties progress, various movements are emerging from the left and right. The counterculture and social revolution was spreading.
A popular term emerged as the hippies, a youth movement characterized strongly by a shift towards a more liberated society. It includes the questioning groups created a movement toward liberation in society, including sexual revolution, questioning of authority and government, fighting for the freedom and rights of the marginalized groups including Negroes, women, homosexuals, and minorities. The use of marijuana, heroine, LSD and various others drugs and listening to psychedelic music were also rampant. Janis would not be left behind and took part in these movements. Joplin’s waywardness continued well into those years.
Around that time, she increased her drug use and took on a reputation as a frequent heroine user and a thrill-freak (Amburn, 1993). She was also heavy on alcohol and other intoxicants and even engaged in sexual high. In 1965, she was described as skeletal, even emaciated due to the effects of her amphetamine use (Amburn, 1993). For some time, she was convinced by her friends to become sober and to refrain from drug use. An old friend and then manager Chet Helms of a group called Big Brother was attracted by Joplin’s bluesy voice. On June 4, 1966, Joplin officially joined the band.
Their first public performance was in San Francisco at the Avalon Ballroom. Her drug use was kept at bay with the help of her friends who she lived within a communal apartment (Friedman, 1992). They signed a deal with Mainstream Records on the 23rd of August of 1966. A year after, the band released their debut album by Columbia Records. Joplin and her band gradually gained fame after several follow-up performances including those in Monterey Pop Festival, appearances in television such as The Dick Cavett Show. She received positive reviews from various magazines labelling her as a powerful singer and a staggering woman of rock and roll.
Eventually, she would leave the Big Brother band and went for a solo career and would later form a band called the Kozmic Blues and another group, which she would call her as her own called the Full Tilt Boogie Band. After breaking up again with the band, she recorded several songs which would be released after her death and would become the highest-selling album of her career. It included the best hit single ”Me and Bobby McGee”, a cover of Kris Kristofferson’s who had been her ex-lover. Janis Joplin died on October 4, 1970 at the age of 27 years. Legacy Janis Joplin can be considered as the Queen of Rock and Roll in the late 1960s.
She was a music icon which would influence the music scene in the years to come. She was an established female star who had success in a male-dominant music scene. Fans and musical experts alike would consider her songs as immortal and contiunes to influence modern day music and artists. She also made contributions to the fashion industry. The way she dressed herself had been another avenue for her self-expression. In interview after interviews, she would update the media of her latest fashion statement from her clothes, to her hair styles, hair accessories, body decorations, and body accessories.
She would also affect the movie industry influencing and inspiring movie directors, actors and actresses such as Better Midler especially in the 1979 film entitled The Rose which would garner her an academy nomination for her performance as Janis Joplin. Other films were also produced based on her life including Gospel According to Janis. A musical play was composed in the 1990s, which will then win a praise and be lauded together with the outstanding performances of the artists who would play Janis.
She would also receive posthumous awards including the Grammy Lifetime Achievment and the induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In the arts, some of her personal artifacts including the Porsche she owned were displayed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Musuem Exhibition which will serve as a testimony to the psychedelic era dubbed as “The Summer of Love- Art of the Psychedelic Era”. This made people reminisce to that nostalgic and definitely not-forgotten era of the human history. Truly, Janis Joplin was a genius not only of her time but her genius continues to live and influence various industried today.
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